I ran my first cross-country race with a team since college last weekend!!!
Oookay, so we were only a team of *two* and weren’t running for a score, but it was still amazing to have a teammate out there on the course and have someone with which to excitedly discuss the just-completed race. An added bonus – my teammate coaches high school, so we spent our cool down sprinting back and forth on the course cheering for her team as they covered the terrain we’d just raced through.
The race itself was also a blast, although a bit rougher than my last race. We were running in the coaches/citizens/middle schoolers race so everything from bib pickup to the actual start time communications was a little sketchy due to the real meet emphasis being the large high school races. However, we all made it to the starting line decently warmed up, where I met up with my Volee teammate for some pre-race chitchat and strides. We found ourselves surrounded by a surprisingly large crowd of uniformed, nervous middle schoolers and tough coaches and open runners. We both squeezed into the 2nd row of starters after our last couple strides and got ready to take off.
The starter raised his pistol, gave us the ‘ready’ command, squeezed the trigger………………and then lowered his arm with a laugh as the blank failed to go off. The crowd of nervous runners laughed back with a startled giggle as we all tried to settle our heart rates from their sudden, lurching increase that accompanied the anticipation of the brief mad dash that comes with every crowded race start. I still felt my heart pounding in my ears when the starter lifted his arm again, and, as a result, surged a bit too enthusiastically of the line when the gun did actually fire.
The first 100m were crowded and chaotic, with my teammate and I fighting not to get squashed in the mayhem. About 50m in the course began to funnel, and an older man and a younger boy who had sprinted ahead of me both suddenly slowed right as the course narrowed to double-track, causing me to veer back and forth in an adrenaline-fueled quest to get around them. I wasted a bit of energy dashing around them through the weeds, and came around them feeling rushed and heavy-legged. However, I now had a clear view of the leaders, and thought I’d have a better chance of holding a strong pace if I didn’t get stuck in the larger pack. I spent the rest of the first mile feeling like my legs were spinning almost out-of-control, and like my breathing was on the edge of hyperventilation. Negativity threatened to drown my race from the very start, but luckily I have plenty of experience feeling like crud through the start of races and I was able to tune out my brain’s anxious chatter about the heavy legs and already suffering lungs. I later found out I came through the first mile about 15 seconds faster than my average pace, and much quicker than anything I’ve been doing in training.
In the second mile I paid for my over-enthusiastic start, slowing by almost 40 seconds/mile and just struggling through with the hope that I would eventually catch one of the runners ahead of me. It wasn’t the best of times but it was great practice in staying tough when everything seems to be going horribly. The opportunity to cheer on my close-behind teammate on a hairpin turn helped too, reminding me that we were at least in this horrible, painful business together!
Eventually the slower pace settled my breathing and brought some pop back into my legs, and I realized going into the third mile that I was within shot of the 2nd place woman*, a very fit looking runner who’d I’d noted on the starting line. I started picking off middle schoolers ahead of me (sorry boys) and eventually got on 2nd place’s back. I was still hurting but convinced myself to push past her strongly, hoping she’d be convinced enough of my effortless advance that she wouldn’t also pick it up and force me to reeeaaaally work for it. She was hurting badly and let me pass without much fight. I was embarrassingly pleased by this – I was also hurting badly and sure didn’t want to have to repeat the strong-pass-attempt performance!
We finally hit 1k to go and I managed to pick it up just a little more for a strong push into the finish. Just as in the 6k the week prior I could’t pull a kick out of my legs**, but I managed to at least hold pace through the line before stumbling through the chute in a state of nauseated fatigue. As I limped out of the chute I remembered that my teammate hadn’t been far being, so shuffle-jogged back around the finish to cheer her in. She arrived shortly, and we both spent the next 10 minutes trying to fake smiles and pep as her nervous high school athletes quizzed us on the course and asked why we looked so spent from the mild, mostly-flat terrain. “What, no, we feel great!” we chirped as we tried not to puke.
She and I parted ways as she went to prep her athletes, and then joined back up for some fairly challenging cool down work that involved repeated bouts of sprinting followed by cheering. The high schoolers raced amazingly and it was inspiring watching them work together over the hot, rough fields, faces showing the same freshly familiar race strain that my teammate and I had just experienced. It was amazing to have the chance to race and then turn right around to give back to the next generation of cross-country runners with cheers and encouragement.
Here’s to hoping those kids will stay joyfully passionate about the sport and end up as older, but still enthusiastic, racing fools like us!
*We both got beat by a middle schooler. She broke 20 minutes which is *ridiculously* good for a middle school girl at 6000 feet elevation!
**I know, I know I need to start adding more strides and maybe some little spurts at the end of workouts. But this end-of-race kick used to come so naturally and I keep forgetting it’s gone until that last 100m when I go to shift gears and just…can’t! A little frustrating…